You never know where you will find your philosophical inspiration – I recently watched Knocked Up and can’t stop thinking about it. This film was odd, because on the surface it had everything to offend any league of decency citizen, but on the other hand it totally affirmed the conservative view on family and right to life. Despite what the right would like to think, few people on the left are anti-family or advocate baby killing – this probably explains why this movie was so popular, it’s positively pro-baby.
Knocked Up was such a success in the summer of 2007 that I have to wonder if these pro family values didn’t help make it a success, even though it’s obviously not aimed at the moral majority. Studies of literature have shown that people love stories with happy endings and in particular, stories that affirm the status quo. Thus part of the huge success Knocked Up achieved was by appealing to the common good. No one watching the movie had to be an Oscar winning screenwriter to predict the ending – and the plotting was standard romantic fare, boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy tries to win girl back, boy succeeds when he remolds himself into the girls expectations.
While Knocked Up had its sentimental side, it also had a raunchy edgier side that turned off a lot of people. I’ve talked to many women who hated this movie and many of their comments parallels Michelle Alexandria’s review in Eclipse Magazine. I identified with the Seth Rogen’s pudgy geek romantic lead, but found it hard to believe that any woman would love this bong sucking schmuck whose ambition in life, along with his crew of omega males, was to start a web page that help guys find the boobs and bush scenes in movies. Nor would I believe that any amount of beer, pity and pithy lines would cause the Alison Scott (Katherine Heigl) character to unzip her jeans for the Ben Stone, the character Rogen plays with such realism.
I’m partial to romantic comedies with multiple couples, and Knocked Up’s contrasting romantic duo is Debbie and Pete, Alison’s sister and brother-in-law played by Leslie Mann, Apatow’s other half, and Paul Rudd. Debbie and Pete have two adorable daughters, and we later find out that Alison and Ben are having a girl, so this movie has a lot of girl power. Knocked Up has a modest unfunny premise, but builds its humor by contrasting the male ambitions with female biological imperatives. Several women I asked about Knocked Up actually made the L sign on their forehead when we discussed Ben Stone – in other words Seth Rogen was hugely miscast as a typical target of the feminine biological imperative.
I have to ask, is Judd Apatow making philosophical cultural theory here, and even suggesting a social paradigm shift? Ben Stone seems to be your typical modern young man, one who works diligently to avoid growing up, highly skilled at video game play, obsessed with the female form but clueless about the womanly mind. Is Apatow speculating that these young men will do what’s right when the time comes but to accept them as they are until then? Is this film one big rationale trying to sell geeky guys to beautiful gals? That’s the odd thing about this movie. It is pro family, but it’s also pro get high, get drunk, have sex, act gross, be a slob, avoid growing up at all cost film – not the kind of male women are programmed to seek out.
Women constantly complain in our society that men are clueless, but both of the main male characters in this movie persistently express their true feelings and it goes in one ear and out the other for their respective female partners. Since Apatow casts his wife as the shrew who can’t be tamed, I’ve got to wonder if this story isn’t their personal expression of an ongoing family argument. The Debbie and Pete characters are better acted and show glimpses of hidden depths that I wished had been explored. Leslie Mann and Paul Rudd show a lot of anguish in their characters that could make a whole other non-comedy movie.
Long ago I read a fascinating scientific experiment about ovulating women where scientists studied them at discos. They measured two things: the amount of skin showing from their outfits and whether or not they were ovulating. It turned out the women showing the most skin were often ovulating. When asked if they were at the disco to seek a father they said no, and many said they had husbands and serious boyfriends elsewhere. Despite what their minds said, their bodies were putting them into ideal positions to make babies. Knocked Up works perfectly off this experiment. Katherine Heigl’s character was not thinking about getting pregnant but she was ovulating when she felt the need to get out of the house. One bit of scientific info from the study is ovulating women are more attracted to strongly masculine faces, again making Seth Rogen unrealistic for the role. Maybe they should have used Martin Starr with his caveman grooming.
And does the same experiment explain the scene where the two sisters again return to the trendy disco, this time to be rejected from the line because one was pregnant and the other was too old? Debbie had dragged them out due to a frustrated need to prove something. On the surface we think she still wants to prove that she’s young and pretty and can still compete on the dating scene, but is her body also wanting her to make another baby? Is she ovulating this time? Is the doorman actually judging the women and only letting in the women who are physical perfect for baby making? Consciously we say no because we know the doorman is supposed to only let in beautiful women, but the same study says the attributes that men list for female beauty also reflect baby making ability. Just how many humans come into being from disco encounters?
What is driving the women in this movie? We know what the men want, both before and after marriage. To the two men, magic mushrooms and Vegas lap dancers represent freedom. Debbie’s husband Pete is hated for wanting some personal time. Debbie tells him taking a night off from the family is worse than cheating on her with another woman.
What are the movie makers saying to us? The closing credits feature photos of cast and crew with their own babies. Is the philosophy of the picture that it’s okay to smoke pot and goof off until you knock someone up but then it’s time to grow up? Older pro family pictures advocated that men would grow up when they started dating, or at least by the time the wedding bells rang. Are Apatow and company promoting a new ideal? Some of these geeky guys in this film do have girlfriends – which affirm their lifestyle. Even the more grown up and career successful Katherine Heigl character is shown in a romantic interlude helping hapless Seth Rogen count exposed female body parts.
Is Apatow offering a compromise for our society by telling us it’s cool to be liberal until the girl gets knocked up but then it’s time to become conservative and flush the dope down the toilet? Both of the young fathers in this movie have to make a lot of sacrifices. Like the Beauty and the Beast myth that young girls love so much, the young men are transformed from beasts into prince charmings by end of the film – but what transformations did the women go through? The less stated myth, but affirmed here is beautiful women are transformed into nagging beasts.
My women friends don’t buy the beautiful Katherine Heigl hooking up with the homely Seth Regen. I think women want all there romantic comedy heroes played by Colin Firth acting like Mr. Darcy. Has Apatow targeted this film to geeks, giving them a romantic fantasy that tells them if they give up their childish ways they can have sex with a real live beautiful blonde. Or is he selling to the women of the audience asking them to believe that geeks are lovable and easily house broken and make good fathers?
I know I over analyze stories too much, but I can’t help finding a wealth of questions and observations in this one. My women friends hated the way men behaved in this movie, but I can’t help but think it was an accurate portrayal of young male behavior. I accused one of my lady friends of not remembering what guys in their youth were like, and she readily agreed. Does Knocked Up show the side of men that women refuse to see? The standard romantic story requires the man to be good looking, successful and agile at saving young damsels in distress. Apatow is selling a much different romantic male lead. And this is different – I mean Kevin Smith never tried to make Jay and Silent Bob the romantic male leads?
I know this film won’t be taken seriously by conservative America but if you look deeply it makes some serious observations. The fish out of water is a standard trick for comedy movies, but during the laughs we see so much about our cultural habits. I have to ask how many mothers and fathers from the right-to-life movement wouldn’t consider abortion in the back of their minds if their beautiful daughter brought home the Seth Rogen character? This movie is seriously unrealistic because no woman as successful and girl-next-door beautiful as the Katherine Heigl character would ever spent two seconds with Ben Stone. She worked in an industry where male ambition is paramount and I’m sure the males there never would have given her the opportunity to meet Ben Stone. Nor would the inner baby making imperative that drives all women allow an Alison Scott like person even see a loser like Ben Stone, no matter how powerful her beer goggles were.
Sure a Seth Rogen movie star guy could catch such a girl, but not the Ben Stone character. If a merely pretty Alison Scott who worked at Ben Stone’s Blockbuster had been in the screenplay, would that film have been just as successful? We could also solve the realism problem by casting the Ben Stone character with some pretty boy face and have the screen writers give him a decent job. If such realism had been written in the story I don’t think I would be thinking so much about the movie and writing this essay, so I give Apatow a gold star, probably five of them. But I’m not the average movie goer. To me movie enjoyment is how much a film makes me think and question.
If Knocked Up is a breakout of story convention then we should expect action movies for male audiences to soon feature female equivalents to Seth Rogen in the token babe roles. Is that too radical? Such a film will probably need to be written and directed by a woman. Is this the beginning of the end of the beauty myth? I doubt it – Knocked Up is probably just a fluke. Would Knocked Up have been a success if the lead actress looked like Seth Rogen’s twin sister? Okay, that would just be your typical art film or foreign film – ordinary people falling in love.
We’re looking at two powerful forces colliding. The power of the male sex drive is well known, but its power is more like a fission A-Bomb compared to the overwhelming personality altering fusion H-Bomb power of the female sex drive. In the end this film shows this because the men are crushed by the force of making babies. The biological imperative that women must live with is overwhelming and watching Knocked Up makes me wonder what women would want if they weren’t possessed by this power.